Archive for the ‘Living’ Category

Fight against “oppression of women” – Illusion or reality

April 1, 2014 Leave a comment

No country is doing any better on “fight against oppression of women” because everyone has changed the definition of “an oppressed woman” to suit their needs. And this has nothing to do with religion… Anyone who attributes such oppression to religion is either speaking out of ignorance or intentionally playing a communal card. Either ways, you are not doing any bit to solve this problem.

So, what we need is a radically new social system which ensures that everyone in society continues to view and treat women as the honor of society and nothing less – at home, at work, at school, and everywhere.

Now the next logical question is what should this social system look like… I anchor this future state system on three key principles:
_ One thing is very clear that self-enforced discipline has not got us anywhere so there has to be some kind of mechanism to drive desired behavior… more like guard rails than being too prescriptive.
_ There is a need to move away from providing band-aid solutions to different symptoms and starting with a clear definition of “what is the role of women (and men) in society”
_ Almost all of us have women in our life who we care about… and so whatever we define as “women rights” should pass the test on our family.

A woman has both a familial and societal role:
_ Within family, she has the role of a wife, mother, daughter, and sister which comes with its own rights and responsibilities (overarching principle in these relationships is to treat the other the way you would want to be treated)
_ Within society, she has the right to pursue education, take up employment (and equal opportunities to excel in her areas of expertise), even run her own business, exercise her vote, and engage in politics (and affairs of society)

By nature, men have been created as physically strong while women have been created as delicate humans who need to be respected and honored in the right way. In fact, I see it as the responsibility of men to protect the rights of women.

As I look at it from a muslim perspective, it is clear that the misconceptions surrounding the treatment of Muslim women arise from two sources:
1. From Muslims who may justify their oppression and mistreatment of women on the basis of Islam
2. From non- Muslims who have an agenda to take the Islamic teachings and want to depict Islamic civilisation as backward and oppressive
Even though the actions we read about are not from Islam, the western media have linked this crime to Islam.

In fact, this is what’s mentioned in the Quran – “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more strength than the other, and because they support them from their means. . .” I am yet to find any contrary teaching to this in the Quran.


Real value of a consultant

March 31, 2014 Leave a comment

Having returned from a loooong hiatus, here’s what I see as a sequel to my last article on consulting >>> Professional reflections – My first year of consulting at the Firm

“Being a great leader is often less a matter of eloquence and more a matter of repetition and consistency.” – Lou Gerstner

Over the last few days, I have started reading a couple of books one of which is “The Firm”, an external perspective on what McKinsey is and what makes up the McKinsey culture. While I can be completely honest that some content in the book will not pass a factual check, there is some content that drew my attention which I wanted to share below.

My thought process is very closely aligned with what the character, Mike Ross, says to his boss, Harvey Specter, in one of the episodes of the TV series, The Suits. It goes something like this, “I know what kind of a lawyer I can be if I am as smart as you, but what I want to learn is what kind of a person I want to be.” (Don’t hold me to the exact wording of the quote… I don’t have as great a photographic memory as Mike Ross).

Anyways, going back to the main topic, I was impressed by what Marvin Bower articulated in his 1997 book, The Will to Lead, as five responsibilities of a professional consultant. I go a step further to add an overarching sixth responsibility that sets the foundation for these five responsibilities.
0. Must hold oneself accountable for being morally right in everything he/she does
1. Must put client’s interests ahead of the firm’s interests
2. Must adhere to the highest standards of truthfulness, integrity, and trustworthiness
3. Must keep to himself/ herself the client’s private and proprietary information
4. Must maintain an independent position and tell the client the truth as he sees it
5. Must provide only services that have real value

A true consultant actually ends up playing four roles:
_ Lawyer for the discretion and integrity
_ Engineer for the scientific, fact-based rigor and precision to the task
_ Doctor for dispensing advice to unhealthy organizations on how to get better and to healthy organizations on how to stay that way
_ Priest for serving clients and being a responsible member of the community

To do this, key ingredients, that Marvin called the McKinsey persona, are:
_ Being selfless
_ Being prepared to sacrifice money and fame for the sake of building a stronger firm
_ Never look for public credit
_ Confident and discreet

Education sector in the United States… system going hollow from the inside

April 15, 2013 Leave a comment

I have had different touch points that got me really curious to learn about the education sector here in the United States…
1. My business school work with companies serving in this space offering tools and resources
2. My discussions with people from work (consultants doing pro-bono work in this space, family/ friends working in this sector)
3. My own decision process as a parent of a soon-to-be-schooled kid

My inquiry process started with a simple question on – “How do I find which school district is the best performing in my area?”

Three fundamental problems surfaced…

A. Defining the school district boundary is arbitrary… it changes every few years based on the “subjective judgment” of the education administrators in the government. One prime example: the city of Chicago has one of the largest school districts in the US with a wide range of school performance and demographics. A few years earlier, some of the high-income neighborhoods worked out something whereby there are these pockets of school districts geographically within the large Chicago school district to ensure their high performance is not lost in the averages.

B. Funding and performance is a vicious never-ending cycle… Schools perform better with high funding, funding is high when the property taxes are high, taxes are high when the real estate is high, real estate is high when people are willing to pay more to buy/ rent a property because of the school district, school district is attractive since the school(s) within are better performing. And so the vicious cycle continues. Once a bad school, always a bad school is how it turns out to be.

C. Using technology to improve assessments and align them with the learning development goals… two sub-problems here include schools taking unethical routes to show higher scores (read the recent news article on how the education administrator in Atlanta city colluded with schools to alter student responses to increase scores) and then technology capabilities not sufficient to provide a timely feedback on student performance even though the level of data gathered is the most advanced it can get (e.g., schools collect some amazing level of data on assessments but then it takes almost a year to document that data, analyze it and understand potential implications for student learning plans by when the student has already graduated to the next class).

During my conversations, all that I have heard of work happening in this sector is on problem C which is an enabler problem… but no attention is given to even acknowledge the other two problems (A and B) and then go about solving it. It’s a matter of will I suppose… where there’s a will, there’s a way!

More on what tactical lessons I learnt in choosing a school in one of my future posts.

External article: What RBS and the banks can learn from early Islam

April 15, 2013 1 comment

I recently came across a short article about the economic benefits of an Islamic economic system. This was in Money Week and authored by Dr. Peter Frankopan titled “What RBS and the banks can learn from early Islam“.

It unfortunately takes a non-muslim Historian to point out the benefits of Islamic economics void of overburdening income taxes and interest/debt overhang that drag economies into the abyss.

The disastrous results released by RBS earlier this year were bad from a financial perspective – a loss of £5.2bn in 12 months. But they were even worse morally.

Contained in the 318-page report, and listed in the unfortunately named section “Highlights”, are a catalogue of sins, including fines for fixing Libor, for mis-selling “structured collar products by the cartload and the systemised scandal of PPI [payment protection insurance]”.

If the sentence that follows is not meant as a joke, it is certainly a brave one: “RBS is committed to serving its customers well and helping them realise their ambitions.” Who knew that those ambitions included being ripped off?

Nevertheless, the report does try to seek penance for past deeds. This been a chastening year, it says. A time “to put right past mistakes.” RBS is lucky it was not in the banking business around the time of the birth of Islam – or it would have found things much more uncomfortable than a light grilling by the Financial Services Authority and the series of humiliating fines and provisions. The bankers would not have been losing their bonuses; they’d have been losing their hands.

One of the great secrets of early Islam was the store that was set by justice and on fairness in commerce. It was significant that the spiritual revelations delivered to Muhammad promised a new way of doing things, a way that protected private individuals as well as businesses from being exploited by those with access to credit. Of particular concern was the issue of the principles of lending money – a topic that appears repeatedly in the Koran.

The customers of RBS and the other banks implicated in the current scandals would recognise the sins that Islam’s holy book warns about. Those who set out to exploit their customers by excessive borrowing charges are no different to “those controlled by the devil”, records the Koran.

Read more…

Getting to the root of world’s real problem – Global poverty (Part 3 of 3)

April 15, 2013 Leave a comment

Now for the finale… having understood what the problem is, what the current system is doing to amplify this problem… time to get a glimpse of what a to-be state of the economic system should be.

Amongst many other details of the futuristic economic system, I see 5 key pillars:

1. Understanding that world’s resources are in abundance and not scarce as proposed by economists like Adam Smith

2. Recognize the problem of poverty and solve it to offer home, health, and food security as a fundamental right of all human constituents

3. Manage resource control effectively… important to understand that all the world resources can be classified as either belonging to an individual, the State, or the public

4. Ensure equitable distribution of wealth by making sure that individuals/ organizations don’t hoard wealth but rather use it thereby increasing wealth circulation (think of this as if a neighborhood is independently run as an economy and there are $1,000 worth of wealth and everything has to be run within itself, if people start hoarding cash and not using it, eventually, everyone will have cash but there wouldn’t be any means of earning for so many people who could have otherwise been employed to offer goods/ services for that wealth)

5. Focus on productivity in creating a “real” economy
_ Do not sell what you do not have (you can see how not following this principle has screwed the whole financial services industry and precipitated the crisis)
_ Introduce the gold and/or silver standard to support real wealth creation and not just currency paper printing
_ Eliminate interest from the economy and introduce profit-loss sharing in all financial transactions

Getting to the root of world’s real problem – Global poverty (Part 2 of 3)

April 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Continuing from my previous post, I hope we all recognize that “poverty” is a real problem and a flagrant violation of fundamental rights of many of our fellow mankind.

Now, what is the current system doing to exacerbate this problem? Let’s apply different lenses…

1. Everyone in the multinational forums talks about reducing poverty by 50% by 2020… So, does it mean that millions of people (just 300 children die of hunger every hour) are destined to die of hunger since we cannot solve the problem soon enough. Nothing more to be said on this…

2. Capitalism… it’s just a virtual economy with no “real economy” fundamentals
_ Dollar and the gold –> Back in the times, currency was tied to the dollar to ensure that we don’t over-inflate our wealth by just printing money. Now, that this linkage is gone, value of currency paper can be set by the whims of people in power. Just the other day, I was trying to do simple math that if an economy had real wealth of $1 trillion and is spending $1 million every day, it would take them ~2,700 years to exhaust just that $1 trillion.
_ Regulations –> Society has become more individualistic where rules have been changed as deemed fit for certain section of the society to remove all regulations and allow individuals to hoard wealth thereby taking it out of circulation. The power of a real economy is in the continuous circulation of wealth to allow for an equitable wealth distribution.
_ Stock inflation –> Just because some analysts/ investors forecast great returns (remember, nothing is predictable), the stock price shoots through the roof… take some of the recent IPOs for example. There is no real alignment with what happens on the ground.
_ Usury explosion –> In my opinion, this is at the core of this economic system menace… people with more wealth are able to rip off the not-so-privileged by lending money at unfair terms (high interest rates) which means a common man borrowing will have to pay more to afford the same kind of goods/ services.

Getting to the root of world’s real problem – Global poverty (Part 1 of 3)

April 12, 2013 2 comments

Over the last few years starting with my pre-MBA job, then the business school, and subsequently my current occupation… I have heard and seen closely the issues facing organizations. More often than not, what happened since 2008 is easily blamed on the “financial crisis” without delving any thought to understanding what’s behind this so-called crisis and what the fundamental underpinnings on this issue are…

At the heart of all this is the collapse of the economic system… the primary purpose of an economic system is to ensure economic well-being of all constituent individuals – a fundamental right to live for all mankind. Unfortunately, we have often taken this economic system as given, reclining to the belief that some people have to go hungry for some other people to have a lavish dinner spread.

Why poverty

So, now it’s a question of who falls into which bucket? And so does the flawed theory of “survival of the fittest” find its way. There are countless of articles on economic system and what can be done. I have decided to take a different approach and start with what is the prime objective of a “rational and just” economic system… and then build on how the ideal economic system will handle it robustly than the current systems – be it capitalism or socialism.

Even before we get there, let me share what someone says in support of what I am about to share…
“The causes of the economic crisis are a combination of greed, incompetence, and a number of additional negative character traits.”
– Steven Pearlstein, a Pulitzer Prize winner and a Washington Post columnist

(1) At the core foundation, the purpose of an economic system is to ensure economic well-being of every individual by solving the problem of poverty.

(2) This economic system has to co-exist in harmony with the other important systems of any well-run civilization – the social system, the political system, the legal system, and the moral system. What we see today is exactly the absence of this… where the ecosystem is so corrupt and degraded that I cannot think of any of these five systems being in a good shape.

(3) Now, everyone is very well aware of poverty in developing countries… how rare is it to see images of starving children in Asian countries or malnutrition-related deaths in almost the entirety of Sub-Saharan Africa? However, what we are not aware of is that hunger has embraced shores of the “developed world” as well. The US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service reports that ‘in 2011, 50.1 million people lived in food-insecure households and prevalence rate of food security in the US has gone up from ~10% households in 2000 to ~15% households in 2011’. Even the so-called glorious boom years of 2003-2007 did little to stem this rising tide.

(4) We, living in America, have no clue about this given the media whitewash such fundamental issues get. It was eye opening for me to see a CBS video on “hunger in America” to show how one in six Americans are going hungry every night. So, even within the capitalist stronghold, there are one in six Americans who need a REAL CHANGE!!!

(5) And to add urgency to the situation, it was touching to see how some regions in the world have seen hungry push people back to the stone age… with adults selling off their kids just to afford food. This is really the bottom a civilization can get to… even though all this is happening away from many of us who are fortunate to live easy lives, it is our collective responsibility to rise above the “individualism” mindset to solve this problem.